Habakkuk Commentary

Habakkuk Commentary

The Habakkuk Commentary or Pesher Habakkuk, labelled 1QpHab (Cave 1, Qumran, pesher, Habakkuk) was among the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 and published in 1951. Due to its early discovery and rapid publication, as well as its relatively pristine preservation, 1QpHab is one of the most frequently researched and analyzed scrolls of the several hundred now known (Bernstein 2000: 647).



The scroll is roughly 141 cm from end to end, with thirteen columns of Herodian script written on two pieces of leather, sewn together with linen thread. Most of the columns are missing their lowest lines, the first column is nearly completely lost, and there is a hole through the center of the second column. The third book of Habakkuk is missing entirely from the pesher, but it was left out intentionally, not destroyed by aging. Regardless, the scroll is still largely readable, and editors have supplied the lacunae without many doubtful readings (Bernstein 2000: 647).


The scroll is a pesher written somewhere in the later half of the 1st century B.C.E. This places the author in a time frame not too unlike Habakkuk: Israel is threatened by Gentile forces. Originally, the Gentiles were the Babylonians. The pesher relates them to the "kittim" which translates to “westerners.” "Kittim" serves as code for “Romans” in the commentary. This identifies the scroll as an eschatological template, with the author arguing for Habakkuk as a prophecy to be fulfilled in his time.Fact|date=February 2007

The pesher also relates several contemporary individuals to the prophecy, though they as well are referred to only in titles instead of names. The hero or leader to follow was called the Teacher of Righteousness, a figure found in some other Dead sea scrolls. The pesher argues that the Teacher has directly communed with God and received the true meaning of the scriptures (Wise, Abegg, Cook 2005: 84). There is slim to no chance of the Teacher being identified with a particular historical individual.

Among the Teacher's opposition were the Wicked Priest and the Man of the Lie. The Wicked Priest is portrayed as a false religious leader who was at one point trusted by the Teacher. Towards the end of the pesher, the Wicked Priest is reported to have been captured and tortured by his enemies (Wise, Abegg, Cook 2005: 86). His true identity is also unlikely to be named with certainty, though just about every contemporary Hasmonean priest has been accused by scholars as being the true Wicked Priest. Some even argue that it was a title attributed to multiple individuals (Bernstein 200: 649). The Man of the Lie is accused by the author of attempting to discredit the Teacher, as well as the Torah (Bernstein 2000: 649). His true name is likewise indiscernible.

Also mentioned in passing by the author is a House of Absalom, which is accused of standing idle while the Man of the Lie worked against the Teacher. Unlike the others, this name is attributed only to a couple of historical figures, the most likely candidate being a supposedly Sadducean relative to Aristobulus II, named Absalom (Wise, Abegg, Cook 2005: 83).Fact|date=February 2007

The author of the pesher reaches a similar conclusion to Habakkuk: perseverance through faith. He affirms that his community will not die at the hands of Gentiles. In turn, the power to retaliate against and judge the Kittim will be granted by God to the faithful (Wise, Abegg, Cook 2005: 83).

Comparison with modern version

What is even more significant than the pesher is the Habakkuk text itself. The amount of incongruence between the scroll and modern Masoretic Text is startlingly minimal. The biggest differences are word order and grammatical variations, but these are small enough to not to damage the meaning of the text (Harris 1966: 22-30).


*Bernstein, Moshe J. "Pesher Habakkuk." "Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls". Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
*Wise, Michael O., Martin G. Abegg Jr., and Edward M. Cook. "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation." San Francisco: Harper, 2005.
*Harris, J. G., "The Qumran Commentary on Habakkuk." London: A. R. Mowbray, 1966.

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